SJP Conference 2017 – Reading the Tea Leaves

There are a number of useful insights to be gained by looking at how Israel’s opponents portray themselves, especially in materials tied to their recruitment and planning.  Which is why communications about the annual conference of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) become regular sources for tea-leaf reading regarding the opposition’s priorities.

The title for this year’s SJP confab: “A Reimagined World: Dismantling Walls from Palestine to the Rio Grand” packs a lot of messaging into a single line, highlighting that the continued colonization of the Left end of the political spectrum represents the organization’s priority for the year.

This is reinforced by the first goal they specify: “Connecting our Regions and Struggles” which spells out plans to “move past lip service” of solidarity towards a Full Intersectional Monty whereby campus and community protest groups would be forged into a united front.

SJP’s second goal, “Holding onto History,” tries to make a connection between the Nakba (“the Catastrophe” – the Palestinian name for the creation of Israel) and the Great Migration of the South, demonstrating (1) continued effort to leverage racial hostilities in the US that have been brewing for the last 2-3 years; (2) indifference to historical fact (since this weak, incoherent parallel implies a total lack of familiarity of what that “Great Migration” actually was); and (3) contempt for the public meant to swallow SJP’s fact-free history and ridiculous parallels whole.

It is only when we get to Goal #3 that divestment makes an appearance in a telling goal title “Mobilizing Alongside and Beyond Divestment.”  The fact that BDS resolutions went down by nearly half last year indicates our side has effectively mobilized against SJP, or the number of strategic targets for divestment strategies (mostly student governments at colleges and universities) are drying up, or both.

Long-time BDS watchers know it is impossible to get the boycotters to admit defeat (since everything they do, including losing, is interpreted as victory).  For every reference to “successful campus BDS campaigns” (referring to couple of dozen student government votes they’ve won or continue to push), you’ve got weasel phrases like “getting our institutions to follow through on their commitments to divest” (which ignores the fact that not a single institute has made any such commitment, student government votes be damned).

Distilling the above with other elements of their announcement (including lists of activities SJP conference attendees will be trained in under the rubric of “Skills Sharing” – Goal 4), I think we are likely to see a ramping up of “intersectional” strategies vs. heavy-duty BDS campaigning over the coming academic year.

This is a sensible move for an organization like SJP which has proven adept at forming alliances with the most radical elements on college campuses and getting them to submit to their will.

For example, when the Women’s Studies Association became one of the few groups to vote for an academic boycott of the Jewish state, many people highlighted the hypocrisy of doing so while ignoring the rampant gender Apartheid among the very societies that boycott is meant to support.  But from a strategic (rather than a moral) standpoint, that alliance simply demonstrates how well SJP is able to build one-way demands into its supposed alliances of solidarity.  This is why admission to a “united front” always seems to require everyone adhere to SJP priorities, while bringing up little matters like the slaughter of Arabs (including Palestinians) in Syria or the brutal repression of women and gays throughout the Middle East (including Palestinian-controlled territories) will earn you an immediate blackballing as a right-wing, Zionist lackey.

The political zeitgeist on campus will continue to center on reaction and resistance to the new US administration and its policies, which is why the Rio Grande makes an appearance in the handle for this year’s SJP event.  This would indicate that the priority for 2017-2018 will be to tie every controversy associated with that administration to some aspect of Israeli leadership or policy.

Some have predicted that a decrease in boycott and divestment activity will be matched by an increase in aggressiveness as some of the most virulent and violent behavior associated with radical student groups gets channeled towards Israel and its supporters on campus.  To fight such a wave, we will need to disrupt those alliances as much as possible, while also preparing to take advantage of a likely backlash against the kind of behavior we’ve seen in schools over the last year or two – two strategies that will be fleshed out next time.

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